There was a time when phones used to be a bit different from each other. Today buyers are faced with the dilemma of whether to have their featureless new rectangle running iOS or Android, with the phones of old having quirkier appearances and more unpredictable features.
Nokias were nothing like Panasonics, Sony had some bonkers ideas, Palm existed and LG pioneered with some weird touchscreen models way before Apple worked out how to make them feel nice and actually work properly.
Many older handsets came with their own operating systems and therefore had different personalities. Some had games, some didn't, some had chunky little aerials to fiddle with, and it was always, always possible to work out which way up they were in your pocket by feel alone.
We miss the days when phones weren't all homogenised into the same form factor by the one huge factory in China that makes everything, so here are the seven finest phones that made us love them by being different and proud of it.
1. Motorola Razr V3
- Year: 2004
- Launch price: £399
We're not talking about the Android one that was a large rectangle, but the original one, the Razr V3 from a decade ago. The folding, angular flipper, with bits cut out of it to make it thinner, like it was some sort of mad carbon fibre concept device designed to break lightness and thinness records.
This original Razr was one of the first phones to make design and style the number one criteria people might consider when buying it, offering a super-slim numeric keyboard panel with Klingon command console-style grooves that was just about the right side of flimsy, and a 176 x 220 resolution colour display. All inside a case just 15mm thick when snapped shut.
The VGA camera tarnished many a memory by being not particularly up to the job of capturing things clearly, but in 2004 anyone with photographic ambitions would've had a proper camera in their bag, so it was no deal breaker. A rightly beloved design classic.
2. iPhone 4
- Year: 2010
- Launch price: £499
The one that was battered by the press immediately after launch when it emerged that the antennae could be dumbed a little by a well-placed finger. But that was soon forgotten. It was such a slim, solid, well-made little thing that it soon became the smartphone of choice for… nearly everyone.
The rounded curves of the first iPhones would never return, and the mobile from rival manufacturers would soon clone Apple's glassy and metallic design to death, with Apple pioneering a look that's still modern, stylish and mysteriously sexy some four years later.
The RAM was double that of the iPhone 3GS which made it run iOS perfectly, but the real selling point was the camera.
The iPhone 4's backside-illuminated 5MP sensor produced superb results, meaning, for the first time, iPhone users could happily bin their compact cameras and rely solely on the phone for snapping their lives.
3. Nokia 3210
- Year: 1999
- Launch Price: £400
The first phone of a generation. We loved it like we love a first car. It didn't matter what make it was, how fast it was or how cool it looked, the fact that it existed, worked and was ours* was enough.
We were empowered with the ability to adjust meeting times and dates while on trains, we could send text messages when a full conversation would be needless or awkward, while T9 text input had us texting with ease on the keypad.
It had three games and you could choose the sounds it made, plus you could purchase after-market covers to jazz up that staid exterior. Cutting-edge tech that changed lives.
*Subject to contract, terms & conditions apply.
4. Sony Ericsson K800i
- Year: 2006
- Launch Price: £400
Sony's been a bit shy about putting its Cyber-shot branding on mobiles of late, but it was this promise of decent portable imaging, teamed with a capable 3.15MP sensor with autofocus, flash, a dedicated shutter button and a cute little sliding lens cover that convinced people the K800i was the coolest phone to own in 2006.
Its burst mode photo tool was innovative back then too, letting users capture nine shots and pull out the best of them to keep - a system most modern smartphone makers are still trying to pretend to have invented themselves today.
And while we may laugh at its clunky candybar looks now, just seven years ago this was the phone used by gadget king James Bond to text his East European lady friends in product-placement motion picture bonanza Casino Royale.
5. Nokia N95
- Year: 2007
- Launch Price: £450
As well as dominating the cheap candybar market for years, Nokia was also king of the newly emerging smartphone world for a bit.
Phones weren't quite as smart in 2007 as they are now, but the S60/Symbian OS was the hackable Android equivalent of its day. A 5MP camera was a thrilling thing to have on a phone back then, which Nokia coupled with GPS, Wi-Fi, a decent web browser and HSDPA radio support.
It was the nerd's phone of choice, thanks to Nokia managing to push it as a powerful computer inside a chunky little sliding case.
It wasn't quite that, but it had all the elements of today's smartphones in place - just working a bit slower than they do now.
6. BlackBerry Bold
- Year: 2008
- Launch Price: £500
Released shortly after the iPhone began recalibrating everything, the BlackBerry Bold 9000 series model appeared to have the power and style to give Apple's newcomer a thorough kicking.
It was slimmer than previous BB models, supported the full-speed HSDPA mobile data connections, and incorporated all of today's smartphone must-haves like GPS, Wi-Fi, a camera, SD card memory upgrades and more.
The Bold was solid (with an erotic leatherette back), the keyboard a dream, the display large and clear. It was a winner. Shame about what came next for BlackBerry (nee RIM).
7. HTC Desire
- Year: 2010
- Launch Price: £500
The first genuinely Triple-A Android model, the original HTC Desire was also one of the last smartphones to really stand out from the crowd in design terms.
It was brown for a start, had chunky silver buttons and even came with a glowing red Terminator eye inside its clickable track sensor, a feature that would soon disappear from the Android spec sheet.
With a 1GHz processor inside, the old Desire still functions pretty well as a smartphone today, although HTC never took it past a DIY upgrade to Android 2.3.
- You've seen the past, so now see what Mozilla reckons is going to be the future of Smartphones.
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